28 May 2019 17:39 IST

Student housing goes off-campus, gets fancy

A clutch of start-ups offers a revamped housing experience for students studying away from home

Remember the day you left home and were exhilarated to start college life? You looked forward to living in a hostel with hundreds of students. You were thrilled to make new friends and the idea of independent living was exciting. But then, you entered your room and reality struck — you saw a tiny, cramped space with peeling paint, a small bathroom shared by many. And then came the even scarier part — the food.

But times are changing.

Oxfordcaps, a student housing start-up founded by two women, is trying to transform this picture. “My business partner and I have worked in the real estate industry for a decade now. We had been exploring opportunities in real estate. With our own personal experience and understanding of the industry, we felt it was time for student housing to come of age,” says Annu Talreja, CEO and co-founder.

 

Priyanka Gera and Annu Talreja

The start-up provides facilities such as well-furnished rooms, reading room, wifi, security, transport and gym facilities, and nutritious meals. It has properties in Greater Noida, Indore, Jaipur, Pune, Dehradun, Bengaluru and Delhi. The rent for dorms starts from ₹8,000 per bed, per month; for twin or triple sharing, from ₹12,000 a bed and for single occupancy, from ₹15,000.

Headquartered in Singapore, the team will shift base to India as it raised $8 million in a Series-A funding round led by Times Internet in March. The round saw additional participation from existing investors Kalaari Capital and Silicon Valley-based 500 Startups.

Making a mark

The company says it has clocked 75X growth in less than 11 months since its launch in India and has expanded from 200 beds to over 15,000 beds. “We are already EBITDA-positive at the property level, and should be EBITDA-positive at the corporate level in the next 12-15 months,” say the founders. On May 27, it announced its entry into Indonesia and Malaysia, in partnership with one of the largest real estate developers in South-East Asia. “Given the brand presence in Singapore, we become a natural choice for leading universities across APAC,” says Talreja.

On the business model, Talreja says that people cannot directly link their property, as they do on Airbnb. If someone owns a large property, the person has to fill a form and express interest in leasing out the property. Once Oxfordcaps takes over, regular standardisation is done and the company then manages the entire property.

All Oxfordcaps housing is located within 10-15 minutes walk from colleges. In Delhi, it has properties in the North campus and Kamala Nagar, both student hubs.

Talreja, an INSEAD graduate, says, “We focus on hygiene, taste and variety when it comes to food. We have a strong operations team, including F&B experts. There is a quality check at every point. For menu planning, we take feedback not only from the students but from their parents as well.”

Kaustubh Lahoty, 18, B.Com honours student at Hansraj College, Delhi, says, “I visited a lot of PGs where the rooms were small and bathrooms even smaller. But here, the room is great and we have an amazing common area where we all relax.”

Safety, wellness

“Technology plays a big role in safety. The building has a biometric security system and is CCTV-enabled. All the recording is saved at a central location. On our app, we have an emergency response service to address issues related to accommodation. The warden has to respond to students in 20 minutes and, if the warden doesn’t respond, the request is immediately raised to the corporate level and the parents are alerted too,” says Priyanka Gera, COO and co-founder, Oxfordcaps.

An IIM Calcutta alumnus, Gera says the team is developing a psychometric mechanism to assess whether a student is suffering from depression or is into drug abuse or has family issues. "We have doctors on call and psychologists who visit often. So yes, we also focus on psychological safety,” says Gera.

According to a 2017 JLL report on student housing, the total number of beds in campus housing and private hostels available in India was close to 6.1 million. A 2010 UNESCO report stated that 3.85 million migrants moved away from home to pursue higher education. This was 19 per cent of the total student population then. The JLL report mentioned that there has been a 67 per cent increase in the student population and a 29 per cent increase in the number of universities since 2010. And if one assumes that 30 per cent of them travel elsewhere to study, the core demand for student housing would be anywhere around 10.4 million beds, against the 6.1 million beds available. This suggests a massive unmet demand, the report points out.

Redefined housing

Anindya Dutta and Sandeep Dalmia

 

Recognising that the student housing segment is largely unorganised, and lacks infrastructure and personalised services, Anindya Dutta and Sandeep Dalmia founded Stanza Living in 2017. Earlier this month, Stanza Living forayed into Bengaluru with the launch of 5,000 beds across 27 residences. It has presence in Delhi, Noida, Vadodara, Dehradun and Indore, and is backed by marquee global investors such as Sequoia Capital, Matrix Partners, Accel Partners and Alteria Capital. “It has become the largest funded player in the student housing segment, with a cumulative investment of $16.7 million in venture capital and debt financing, and currently, we are profitable at the residence level,” says Dutta.

The monthly rent ranges from ₹5,000 to ₹20,000 or more, depending on the local real-estate dynamics and specific facilities available. Most of the residences are located within a two-km radius of the colleges.

On food quality, IIM Ahmedabad graduate Dutta, says, “We have instituted a dedicated operations excellence team which includes specialists in operations, hospitality and customer experience, executive chefs and F&B experts. The key focus is to ensure a superlative, hospitality-led experience at all our residences. Meals are cooked only in FSSAI-licensed partner-kitchens and undergo frequent food testing.”

Keyless, cashless system

Yogesh Mehra, founder of TribeStays, a Pune based start-up for student housing, says it was his son who encouraged him to enter the segment. “My elder son used to study in Vellore and I saw how he lived there. Then, he went to England for further studies and we noticed that there was a huge difference in the quality of living. My younger son also went to England to study and, when he came back, he suggested we do something related to student housing. As I have worked in the real estate industry for the last 22 years, I thought it was a great idea,” Mehra says.

 

Yogesh Mehra

 

“All our properties have CCTVs and we have access control systems. It is a keyless and cashless system. All our doors have RFID (radio frequency identification) locks and students can access rooms only via RFID bands,” he adds. Boys and girls stay in the same building but live on separate floors. There is a common area on the ground floor.

Abhishek Jha, 19, who lives at TribeStays in Pune, says, “The selling point for me was the room. It is really good. If I had a problem, the team would resolve it immediately.”

TribeStays will be operational in Bengaluru and Mumbai from July. All properties are within a two-km radius from the colleges. The company expects to break even within two years. The charge for an air-conditioned single room is ₹31,500 a month, and for a twin-sharing room it is ₹21,500. “Our focus is on the premium segment and the rents would vary, depending on which part of the city the property is,” says Mehra. Apart from breakfast and dinner, it provides unlimited wifi, laundry, electricity, housekeeping, facility management and linen change services, and access to a gym too. Mehra plans to expand his business in Noida, Kota and Indore.

So clearly, as student housing graduates, college-goers can move beyond confined, uncomfortable spaces, teeny bathrooms and menus that do not change for months.

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